1914: Metal and the Horror of War

Ukraine has always had a strong metal scene. Some of the bigger names are well known, but also sort of ignored in the west. That’s mainly in the more black metal side of things, but politics (usually a reason for censorship) are almost unavoidable for bands. The same goes for 1914, even though their main theme is the Great War of a 100 years ago!

The band 1914 has a fascination with history, particularly the great war, which heralded an era of darkness for there part of Europe. The idea of a Ukrainian nation was crushed for years during this period of turmoil by the Soviet Union. The world saw huge changes and took the shape it still largely has.

So I got in touch with Dmytro Kumar, frontman of the band, who is fascinated with the Great War. Not only does he find it a historic time that he wishes to explore, he sees a continuation of sorts in our current history. That and more in this interview.

1914: Eschatology of War

Hey 1914! Can we start by introducing 1914? Who are the band members and how did you guys get together as a band?

We started 3 years ago, on the anniversary of the Great War, in summer 2014. And as it usually happens, first year was spent for rehearsals, grinding in, crew changes. Actually crew changes finished just this summer. So 3 years ago (when we split up with my hardcore punk band) I just wrote to a few good guys in Lviv with proposal – let`s play some kind of black metal and sludge, what do you think?
They said – hmm.. good idea))
So guys, what do you think about WW1 theme, soldiers fate, despair and a lot of history?
They said – ok, man, don’t fuck our brains with all of this, it`s up to you))
And we started.

Did you play in other bands before? And where did the need come from to form this band?

Yeah, all band members had a huge musical experience in another bands and styles – hardcore-punk, grindcore, brutal death, black metal, stoner, noise, industrial, nu-metal, MDM. As for me – my music story was started 20 years ago with my first punk band. So very different experience, but when we started together we liked the result. I define our style as trench core
There a few past band of our members: Disentrail, Ambivalence, Ratbite, John B Gut, and ForceOut.

Your theme is mainly World War I and surrounding themes. What made this theme so compelling to you? Is it the drama of it or maybe its idealism?

I think this type of questions always will be at our interview and will follow us everywhere)) So about Great War:
Over 10 years ago I went into war archaeology, actually WW1 archeology. I love this war, this history, uniforms, weapons, armament, stories about battles, the fate of soldiers. I am a really big fan of Great War. Here in Ukraine, there were many battles of Great War – Brusilov`s offensive, Carpathian winter operation, Galician battle. All kind of troops was there – Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, ottoman, Belgian, Romanian soldiers…they all here.
So I dig up dead soldiers – skeleton, with uniform, weapon, ammo, with all the stuff and wrote songs about their fate, silent death, their feelings, and fear.

I have always been inspired by this theme. I love films, books, stories, artifacts of this war. And no, it`s not about idealism. You cannot idealize any war – because war is always about shitty politics and bullshit propaganda, death, mud, mass graves, suffering, broken lives, despair. I just love history and this strange feeling – when you dig up a soldier, who died here 100 years ago, you sit down near these bones which once were human, with all human’s stuff – love, feelings, hope, some hobbies, maybe he was a beer lover, traveler, good musician, painter, maybe just good father or son, whose parents were waiting at home, you think – why and for what did he die? Why this fucking homo sapiens always killing each other? I don’t know, I just don’t have an answer.

Your music has a sort of grandeur to it, while not shying away from the dark and grim reality. In many ways World War I was a transition from one world to another. Is there a sense of melancholy or nostalgia to that for you?

Hmm…nostalgia. Yeah, maybe nostalgia is a right word. The Great War – this is the time when I would like to live, the strangest war, the last war of gentlemen and knights, the death of all empires, a time when the whole world was changed. I think my irrational love to this war and actually, this period of history was rooted in this word – nostalgia.
Fuck, typing this passage and understood what a boring old fart I am…

How did you find the sound of 1914? What sort of choices do you feel make you guys sound the unique way you do?

To be honest – I don’t know. A lot of rehearsals, good guys and a few bottles of moonshine. We`re just creating our songs the way we consider correct, with passion and every song some kind of a story about soldiers, how they died, their feats, about battles, gas, machine guns and tanks, about all of this deadly stuff of Great War, with all these emotions about nonsense and senseless war.

Are there any bands that inspire you and in what way?

As you can understand there are different musical tastes in band, so I’ll talk about mine
Music that I listen to and about influence – it will be a long list from Japanese noise to grindcore, from true BM to old school rap, from hardcore punk to industrial, electronic, death, doom, sludge, stoner.

Actually, I am a big fan of Misfits, Exploited, Anti-Nowhere League, New Model Army, UK Subs, Bolt thrower, Lake of tears, GBH, Paradise lost, Bathory, Grave, Obituary, Asphyx, Merzbow, Einstürzende Neubauten, Black flag, Mork Gryning, Aube, Mayhem, Bad religion, Darkthrone, Social distortion, Unleashed, Atrax Morgue and tones of old-school hardcore punk, death, true black metal from early 90`s and noise\industrial from 70-80`s. I fucking love Japan noise and some British and Scandinavian bands like Nordvargr, Dead Voices On Air, Cremation Lily, In Slaughter Natives. I`m a big fan and collecting releases of noise\industrial\ambient labels like Cold Meat Industry, Slaughter production, Cold Spring, Old Europa Café, Drone records, Ant-Zen etc. A lot of awesome new music we can have today and it`s great. If we talk about just one band what give`s me an inspiration I think it would be Lake of tears.

You’ve recently released the single ‘Stormtrupp 1917’. Can you tell a bit about that? Maybe what its about and what it signifies to you? (and is it related to the 1934 movie?)

This a first single from our upcoming album. About this song, we received different feedbacks, but mostly positive. The song is about German assault troops, and it’s neither about their glorifications, nor about propaganda or ode to Stormtrupp. No, it’s just a story from the first person, German’s soldier who loved to kill peoples and war. Because at the Western front this Stormtrupp were the most horrible and successful assault brigades. The same we have about Italian, British, Ottoman, Ukrainian troops. And yes, I wrote this song with a strong influence of this propagandist movie and book Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger, he was a German’s assault trooper, he was fought on the Western Front during the Great War. I even receive a letter with words like this – song about German soldiers with iron crosses, why? Are you a nazi band?

What could I say? Just no, it`s about human nature, homo sapiens behavior, history, and war. And – fuck nazis and all kind of totalitarian shitheads.

When I saw you live, I was quite impressed by the stage presentation and the outfits. It was quite powerful. How did you come up with this look and do you think it helps you to get into the state of mind your music requires?

Remember Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

– Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can –

If you know what I mean. If you get locked into a serious WW1 theme you cannot stop. So we use a some artifacts from WW1, some of this stuff I dig up by myself (all buttons, grenades, trench axes, helmets, etc) we use a real working Mosin–Nagant rifle as custom microphone stand, we use a lot of things to create an atmosphere of Great war – sounds of war, hymn samples, sounds of machineguns, speeches between songs about this part of history, old and rare video footage from WW1. Now we are planning to buy a copy of uniform from WW1 period (British, French, Russian, Austrian) and use it on the stage, so we becoming a real re-enactment. But all this stuff costs a lot of money, and I hope that some WW1 re-enactment clubs and teams will help us with this.

What role do politics play in the music of 1914? Dealing with themes of the World War automatically brings up connotations with the world we live in now. Do you put any of that in the music or does it play a part in themes you chose?

We’re 100% non-political band and we don’t want to have any relation to all that shit. To all that teenage ideology games within system boundaries. Yeah, we against all this bullshit like racism, nazis, commies, religions, all kind of discrimination and totalitarianism or any dictators shit. My only policy is to live, to love and to let others do the same. All the ideologies, politics, subcultures, games of movements that allegedly change the world can go fuck themselves.
War ended a hundred years ago, but still, we’re facing its consequences. Second world war, this monster – it’s an ugly child of Great War. All the geopolitics and Balkan conflict are the heritage of Great War. The Communist regime and the iron curtain, concentration camps and Third Reich, mustached dictators – this all started in the times of Great War. Arms races and conventions, tanks, aviation, chemical weapons – all stems from that time. Great War is way deeper and stronger in our life as you used to think.

I imagine being a band from Ukraine politics are impossible to keep out, seeing what the country is dealing with. At Kilkim Zaibu you paid homage to the Ottoman army who fought against the Russians You also drew a parallel with the modern world. Could you elaborate a bit on that?

As you know (or don’t) Russia invaded the neighboring country as usual. It’s their way of life – shit under every fence around, capture other’s land, and after all, that keep whining that nobody likes Russians. In fact, they invaded us again, as they did during last 100 years. Just the same way they invaded Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and so on, just like they once in the middle of Europe boldly captured Eastern Prussia and Konigsberg. This is what’s happening here right now – military intervention and seizure of territories. Of course, we’re all affected, I have many friends on the frontline now, my fellow musicians. It’s really hard to realize that in 2017 when Tesla rolls over the world and drives out fuel engines, water is found on Mars, Elon Musk plans private space journeys – our young guys are dying just because some insane post-soviet dictators imagined themselves to be masters of the world and invaded a foreign country. And Europe still feels deeply concerned with their tongue stuck deep in the ass. Such a position of frightened impotent. Or do you think these fuckers gonna stop on us?

How does 1914 create its music? Is it a band-effort or are there separate roles and one person in the lead?

I write all lyrics, concept and all this stuff. 90% of the music created by our guitar player Oleksa (Liam Fessen from 37.Division, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr.73). He just brings to rehearsal some parts and ideas, let`s play this way this and this. After that I often just have a picture in my head – oh… this new piece totally about Somma or about panzer A7V or about a British soldier in the shell hole.

I imagine you draw inspiration from history material. Are there specific books or films that you would recommend as required reading for people who get inspired to dig into this part of history through your music?

There are thousands of great books about WW1, tones of documentary films and photos. Of course books of Gerard De Groot, David Stevenson, John Keegan, Alistair Horne, Erich Maria Remarque and Ernst Junger, Martin Gilbert, Irving Root, Christopher Clark, Barbara Tuchman, Pat Barker, Paul Fussell, Siegfried Sassoon, Dalton Trumbo….i can type and type a thousand names. There are great publishing houses like Pen & Sword, Schiffer Books, and Casemate Publishers, they published a lot of great stuff about WW1. Very recommended their books. About films – there is not too much good films about Great War, some like 100 I think. So if you started right now watch it all, one per day – you will be finished around early spring And of course BBC and History documentary films.

In what way should we look at history? Should we make it a guide for our future or should we see it on its own?

Just a simple phrase – Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

What future plans does 1914 have?

Tell about the Great War to the whole world, to all metalheads, to all military fans. Told this part of history to all who can hear it. Record a new fucking awesome album, make a video clip, collaborate w a th big label (first of all find one), playing tours and gigs in EU as much as we can, and of course – creating a good music and stories about Great War. Sounds like plan?

If you’d have to describe 1914 as a kind of food, a dish, what would it be and why?

Bottle of Carpathian moonshine with marinated cucumbers and homemade salo. Why? Have you ever tasted it? Because it`s fucking good!

Underground Sounds: A Village In Despair – EP

Label: PRBM.co.uk
Band: A Village In Despair
Origin: Sri Lanka

Black metal from Sri Lanka? Really? Yes, this band hails from the island near the south of the Indian subcontinent. A Village In Despair has chosen this style for their message of, well… despair in fact. They tell the story of the rural villages on their island nation, through this music style. This EP is their debut, and it’s one hell of a calling card.

The group from Colombo started out as a band last year and signed to a label, dedicated to music that shakes it seems, signing this Sri Lanka band among electronic music acts. A bold move, but also an important one for the band, who released a single and EP in the same year. It’s some astounding music that sticks.

The opener is ‘The Promise’, which kicks with a grim riff and a guttural howl, evoking the classic imagery of a gibbering moon and solemn nature as classic black metal does. The pace is like that as well, creeping and slow, but as the song progresses it becomes even more languid. The vocals seem to bubble up like they’re trying to break the surface of a swamp that keeps sucking them down. The guitar work sounds very much classical and melodic, which is working well for the atmosphere and attractiveness of the song. But damn, those vocals creep the hell out of me.

This guitar perseveres on ‘Hope & Longing’, which oozes the same despair, but soaring, tremolo riffs create a particular hollow in the song. It, even more, expresses a void. It’s that emptiness of the subsistence life that they try to convey. To really embed the song in the locality, spoken word passages are added in the native language. A shiver runs down the spine when you hear this in combination with the almost painful atmospheric black metal from A Village in Despair.

We close with the even so painful ‘Helpless’. This is one exceptional record and it should be out there more. Listen to it and let it all sink in. Not tombstones, satan, and demons, but the reality of despair.

Satanakozel: in the far north of Karelia

In the far north, metal has found fertile soil through the years. Finland was late to the party, but is pretty much the most metal nation in the world these days. Just across the Russian border though, a small scene has been brewing in Karelia. A prominent band in these parts is СатанаКозёл, which translates as Satanakozel (Satan’s Goat).

Though the band seems to be mostly having a good time, there’s a deep appreciation for nature, their lands and traditions inherent to Satanakozel. Their last album, titled simply ‘Север’ (North) is a testament for that. Though never very prolific due to their inherent issues (you’ll read about that soon), the band has been a staunch touring group and loves their metal.

I found drummer Nicolai Kuskov willing to answer some of my pressing questions about making music in Karelia, touring, the relation to Finland and how reverence for the nature goes together with good old fun.

Can you kindly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how Satanakozel got started as a band?
Hello! I’m Nickolai Kuskov, the drummer and the co-founder of Satanakozel. Me and Vasiliy Kozlov started the band in 2002 as a nameless duo, in 2003 we have got the first full line-up and started to rehearse as SK. Nowadays SK is a 5 piece band:
Vasiliy Kozlov – guitars, vocals, folk instruments
Nickolai Kuskov – drums
Dmitriy Dobrynin – guitars, vocals, keys
Vladimir Savvateev – guitars
Dmirtiy Makarov – bass
I must mention that we never thought that it could grow bigger than just another garage band, we never had any special goals, we played music only for our own good, nothing more, nothing less. Great that it grew in a something bigger.

What bands influenced you and made you want to make this type of music?
I suppose most of the readers can recognize these influences, the bands from Finland, Scandinavian bands had a huge effect, also the folk music from our region did the job!

I can definitely hear some Finnish influences in your folk metal sound, would you say that is correct and is there a connection between bands from Karelia and Finland?
Yep, you’re right, we are impressed with the Finnish and Karelian folk music, which are quite similar. We share our myths and legends with Finns and, that is why there’s a connection. We do not have a lot of metal bands from the Russian side of Karelia, so I do not know about the rest.

How would you describe the message that Satanakozel has for the world? In biographies you’ve written you’re free from politics and that the band is about nature worship and fun. How do you bring those together?
Well, one would think that our lyrics are full of humor, jokes and so on, but the serious meanings are hidden under the mask of fun. The song ‘Pivovar/the brewer’ is an example, it may sound like the song about how good is to drink beer 24/7 but the real meaning is telling the listener that heavy drinking leads you to death. With the latest album we did a few serious lyrics, the topics are WWII, North and its power, but still we have enough humor.

How did you guys come up with the name? I understand it’s a silly sounding name in Russian and it started as a joke, but how did it stick with you for a good 15 years?
It was a local joke. The ex-keyboard player put our band on the roster of the festival under that name, because we had no other ideas how to name the band. I think we didn’t even think about it. We wanted to change it, but we never came up with anything better, haha.

So what is Satanakozel up to these days? It’s been awhile since ‘North’ came out. Can you tell me a bit about what direction you guys are planning to go in?
We are looking forward to start composing the new album. The biggest problem is Vasiliy Kozlov, our main composer, lives about 400 km from us. It is quite hard to get in touch with him because there’s no mobile coverage, internet or even basic phone in his village.

We tried to gather together at his place to compose something, but it all ended with a vodka and beer party… Still, we have a lot of ideas for the future songs, looks like it will be even more “metal” than “folk” as we did on the last album. Personally, I’m tired of all these shitty pseudo-folk metal bands with the same melodies, same sound, same lyrics.The style itself became too boring, there are no great newcomers and the veterans do not care about the quality of their music.

Also, we would like to have as many gigs as we can. We already did a few tours in Europe, this summer we’re going on the road again.

You clearly identify as a band as being from Karelia or being Karelians. How important is this identity for you and in what way does this appear in your lyrics as it is written that you guys use Karelian folklore in your lyrics.
It is very important for us, especially for me and Dmitriy Dobrynin because we both have Karelian roots. Our cultural heritage gives us a lot of inspiration to compose the music and the lyrics, we have lyrics about characters from local folk tales and legends such as Priest Sivolday, Kullervo from the mighty Kalevala Epic.

We identify as Karelian, though that doesn’t mean we don’t like our mother Russia, it’s just simply closer to our hearts and spreading our culture is important.

Since most people don’t know much about your part of the world, can you give some general outline of what the folklore and mythologies are like from your region?
Is mostly the same as in Finland, it is based on Kalevala Epic, also we have Russian folklore.

What does nature mean to you? Is it something that is generally a large part of your lives?
Northern nature is definitely a big part of us, we spend a lot of time in the forests. Vasiliy Kozlov earned his living for a few years in hunting and fishing, so you may guess that nature and its gifts are the most important part of his life. It always will be the biggest influence and inspiration for us.

It appears that there’s quite a little metal scene in Petrozavodsk. Can you tell a bit about that? You have described yourselves as a DIY band, is that what the scene is like there as well?
There’s no metal scene, Petrozavodsk has been mostly punk/hardcore town, just 2-3 bands and these bands are the side projects of SK members. I can mention only heavy metal band Aspaziya, great USSR metal style!

From the very beginning, we’re trying to do everything without any interference from aside. I run my own recording studio, where we record our music and I do the graphic design for the band. Dmitriy Makarov is in charge of the mixing and mastering process (he did the sound of the “North” album)… I think the DIY thing is the best way for independent musicians, go DIY now!

What bands should people really check out from your region (and why)?
Antimelodix, Minuala, Ork Bastards, Soli Diabili Gloria, Meti Bhuvah, Sattuma, Santtu Karhu & Talvisovat, Myllarit, Toive folk ensemble, Kantele state folk ensemble.

In a sense Karelia is a remote part of the world. The only way to go farther north is Murmansk. How do you think this shapes the music and words that you use?
As I said before the nature of Karelia is the main influence for our music & lyrics. I have nothing to add, just turn the latest SK album on and try to feel it. I highly recommend you to visit Karelia, especially the Paanajarvi national park.

You’ve chosen to be a-political as a band. How did you get to this decision in a world that is so overly political these days? Especially living in such border region. Is this a decision as a band or are you guys also not interested in politics as individuals?
Yep, we are a-political band and it was our choice since we started SK. We all know what is going on in the world, but we never trust the news from the state TV channels, even the independent media became corrupted. Seems like most of the people in Russia are completely brainwashed about the rest of the world. I’m traveling a lot and talking to the people from different countries, that’s how I make my conclusions.

So, what does the future have to offer for Satanakozel?
We’re planning a summer Eurotour with Grai & Gjeldrune, also we will try to get together to start working on a new record. I think that’s it, no special plans.

Final question, if you had to describe yourself as a dish, what dish would it be and why?
Lohikeitto, fish boiled in milk, sounds weird, but the taste is awesome! Try it once.

Underground Sounds: Mountains Crave – As We Were When We Were Not

Label: Avantgarde Music
Band: Mountains Crave
Origin: United Kingdom
Maybe it’s the rich cultural melting pot Britain has become over the centuries. It might also be the ancient myth and wonder, still hidden in some hidden parts of the land, but somehow bands from the island seem to have a special approach to black metal. Mountains Crave is no different, with a very particular approach to the genre and distinct theme. Their album ‘As We Were When We Were Not’ is special and well worth listening to.
The band is actually delivering their debut with this record. The group from Leeds has been around for a bit and did drop an EP in 2014. It might also help to know that there’s two members of A Forest Of Stars in the line-up, a band that never ceases to amaze me. Other members had previous experience too, amongst them in Old Corpse Road.

Opener ‘Ynisvitrin’ immediately sets the bar with passages of Mongolian throat singing (or something very close to it), woven into the fabric of the song. That is strangely working out well and sounds pretty natural as some unearthly vocals. For this record, the group drew inspiration from Aldous Huxley’s 1962 lecture on visionary experience. This is part of the exploration this album undertakes in its dense and heavily atmospheric sound. The lyrics read like mantra’s, fitting right into the hypnotic sound of guitar walls. The drums really make you feel it all in your gut as you ponder these cosmic ideas of death, spirit, and afterlife the band is hinting at.

On ‘Clear Light of the Void’, the band samples a recording of Gerald Heard. A historian, scholar, and LSD-expert that fits in with the enlightenment-seeker theme of the album. Such facts seem trivial, but to me, the interwovenness of theme, music, and material is what can make an album so much more convincing and attention-grabbing. The flow of music, the odd little pace shift in the track and it’s overall harmony make you easily float along on its notes. Whether it’s in the bath of sound that is the guitars or the haunting female vocals, there’s peace and tranquility to be found in the music of Mountains Crave.

One of the highlights is the instrumental title track. Minutes long only the cosmic experience of the music. At the end of the record, there’s a glimpse of that light. A sense of the enlightenment we seek as normality returns.

Underground Sounds: The Huntress and Holder of Hands – Avalon

Label: Supply and Demand Music
Band: The Huntress and Holder of Hands
Origin: United States

When David Lamb passed away, the band Brown Bird ceased to be. After years of making music together with MorganEve Swain, this was the end of the group under this moniker. It’s a sad story and the early death of Lamb due to leukemia is the story no one hopes to ever have to experience with a loved one in their lives. But what would be the best way to then honor the deceased? I always think it’s in continuing the work you’ve set yourself to, which is what MorganEve did.

The Huntress and Holder of Hands is the shape of what follows. Folk and blues meet on indie turf, with the sound of a haunting autumn day. I find this record exceptional, which the story behind it only emphasized. After years of collaborating, Swain marches on alone and that is the brave thing to do. It results in a magnificent record. The title is that of the lost realm of Avalon, a mythical place connected to the Arthur myth. Always in our minds, but never to be attained again.

I have to say, that the folky blues combination of The Huntress and Holder of Hands is something special. With stylistic links to groups like Neutral Milk Hotel and maybe even Stornoway, their folk has something of a forest on a sunny autumn day. The sound is continuously flowing, while simultaneously bewildering and haunting you, as would be the buzzing liveliness of the forest. There’s a sense of departure, when Swain sings on ‘Borealis’: “Cut the ties that bind us. My chest will cease to rise. Bear in mind my likeness eternal in your eyes.” The words would appear to say enough.

The singing is weary and laborious at times, betraying the struggle inherent to the emotional charge of this record. From the meanderings of ‘Severed Soul’ to the string sections on ‘Ètude’, there is a continuous flow of feeling in the album. I also have to say the sound is groovy, languid and remarkably catchy with its bluesy passages. The vocals just linger in the air, with the right timbre to really team up with the music. It’s a remarkable record, that I could listen to again and again.

Underground Sounds: Inoriand – Dwelling in Frost

Label: Eldest Gate Records
Band: Inoriand
Origin: Hungary

Inoriand is a particular entity, that creates what it calls winter synth. Winter, like in a sense the word dungeon does, fills in the thematic side of the music. Inspired by the elemental forces, the project has been unleashing various records, that convey the feeling of the outdoors. When it’s cold… and when it’s dark.

You can feel the ice-crusted meadows, the windswept mountain peaks, and the misty ancient forests, that are hidden underneath a blanket of snow. We’ve definitely left the dungeon on this one. The record, titled ‘Dwelling in Frost’, follows the path set out by predecessor ‘Bringer of Cold Winter’.

The music is eerily tranquil and with an icy force. Every note has the straight path of an icicle, hanging from a roof or a tree branch. The tones are elongated, cool tones, that speak of pristine beauty and cold death to the listener, as they lazily surge past you. Every new one enters gently, sliding into the complete spectrum of sounds with a casual ease. The clarity of the music makes the listener experience a strange tranquility.

There lies a yearning underneath though, buried under snow, to find life again. To blossom and bloom, which is almost tangible within the spectrum of synths by Inoriand. The gentle swelling ‘Lights in the Northern Sky’ for example, which suddenly breaks free after 5.30 minutes into something floating, effervescently light. That’s where ‘Reflecting Yourself’ comes in, which feels like being in a cocoon. Soothing and oppressive at the same time. A great record to immerse oneself in.

Underground Sounds: Eldamar – A Dark Forgotten Past

Label: Northern Silence Productions
Band: Eldamar
Origin: Norway

Eldamar is an atmospheric black metal project from Norway, with a sole member in its ranks. Mathias Hemmingby from Askim has a profound love for the fantastic, which is evident from the projects name (a reference to Tolkien’s elven realms). ‘A Dark Forgotten Past’ is the second album of the band.

This is the second full length for Eldamar, which has existed since 2015. The debut ‘The Force of the Ancient Land’ came out in 2016, so respect for unleashing the next work only a year later. Most of the music is generated on the computer and inspiration comes from the likes of Elderwind and Howard Shore alike.

The sound of Eldamar lingers somewhere between dungeon synth and atmospheric black metal. The guitar riffs sound as tight as your most epic sword-guitar wielding power metal band. Due to the production all is rather polished, yet the atmosphere is vastly different. The grimy, abyssal vocals match up with clean, angelic singing. A broad spectrum of sound unfolds, with the mission of casting a spell you with magical, harmonious songs.

The melancholic chanting might remind you of the Lord of the Rings soundtracks or even some moments in the World of Warcraft lore. Its profound sadness works well in line with the steady blast beats and solid riffing. You journey to an otherworldly place with a song like ‘In Search of New Wisdom’. It’s as if the guitars and drums merely function as rhythmic devices. The synths dance their very own dance in harmony with the vocals. It works marvelously and after listening to this record for a while, I’m finding myself thinking of mighty mountain peaks, deep dwarven halls and fiery craters of doom.

In conclusion follows the particular highlight of the climactic ‘A New Understanding’, which closes the record. It completely swoops you up and carries you to the realms far, far removed from where you normally reside. Nothing quite sounds the same as Eldamar.

Possessor Strikes Back: New album, new interview

A little while ago I got in touch with a great little band from London, named Possessor. They’re basically horror film freaks who love to play crazy rock’n’roll, but they do it so well. Hearing that their new album was available, I was obviously more than interested (read the old chat here).

Graham Bywater and Matthew ‘Bean’ Radford have been working on this project for a while now. With their brand new album ‘The Ripper’, the third full length is available and it’s quite some piece of work. Time to check up with them again. Both gents where kind enough to answer some questions.

Possessor says be excellent!

So, how has Possessor been doing lately?

Graham – Hi. Good thanks.
Bean – Hey, not bad at all, we’ve had some pretty good things going on.
Graham – We have been super busy making this new album and getting it all ready for release. We’re also having a bit of a line-up change in the new year as we’ve never had a permanent bass player. We are also looking into getting a fourth band member to help me out on guitar while I’m doing the occasional frenzied solo. In 2018 we will be back with a new live line up that will hopefully flatten the universe.

You’ve been releasing some EP’s, can you shed some light on those?
Bean – The ep’s are really just a way of keeping our name out there and hopefully keeping people interested in what we are doing… The Revenge track was originally intended to be included on Dead by Dawn but when it came to putting it all together, the flow of the album worked better without it. Interestingly, it was actually completely reworked in the time between initial tracking and it’s Halloween release. In the end only the drum track remained from the original session. Graham reworked the riffs and vocals and they are actually completely different to what I was playing along to when we recorded it. The B-Side, The Foreboding, was essentially an improvised piece and makes up a trilogy of songs which were all approached in the same “made-up on the spot” way… The first of these was The Creeps on DbD and the third is Notting Hell on The Ripper.

The live eps are just for fun really. The Ghouls Out (Live in Soho) ep holds a particular significance to me because it was recorded on my 40th birthday with a few good friends in attendance.

Graham -There aren’t a great deal of live albums being made these days and I’m a bit fond of the classic live metal albums of yesteryear. I thought it would be a good way to bridge the gap between albums and put out a few free, and deliberately very rough bootleg style live Eps. It’s a fun way of keeping people interested, but we wanted to make sure they cost nothing and almost purposely sound like shit.

You’ve just released ‘The Ripper’, which is a more noisy, raucous and angry record than the previous ‘Dead By Dawn’. What can you tell us about its conception?

Graham – It was conceived after too many beers and some soft jazz.
Bean – Haha! here was never really a conscious discussion about how it was intended to turn out. We just wanted to make a great heavy metal album, influenced by all the things that excite us about that style; volume, weight, riffs, breakdowns… All the stuff that makes a person bang their head. We wanted it to be a progression from DbD and I think we achieved that by going backwards to a time when metal was a much blunter tool than it is now. Between DbD and the Ripper we were listening to a lot of early Iron Maiden, Saxon, Black Sabbath (always) and NWOBHM. The aesthetic was denim, leather, bricks and booze. Think Derek Riggs. All of that seeped into this record.

What was the writing and recording process like? How do you gents go about these things?
Bean – The lion’s share of the writing is Graham’s work. He will turn his ideas into demos which he passes over to me. I’ll listen to them on repeat and give my thoughts. Any edits or changes are minimal. My role is to put a thrust behind them all with the drums. I just try and hit them hard and give the songs a kick. I want people to FEEL these songs and experience them in the same way they would if we were playing them live. Having said that, The Ripper is also the first time I’ve contributed guitar parts to a Possessor album. Lava is a riff collaboration between Graham and I.

Graham – For money reasons and sheer want of control I used to record everything we did albiet in a rather primitive and lo-fi way. This album was recorded with a reputable metal producer, Lord Sam Thredder of Slabdragger fame. He helped us get a really tight and hefty vibe that didn’t take too much away from our previous recordings but with his input, we really turned it up to eleven. Also, Sam is way better at recording drums than me.

We hammered this record out in two days, the second of which was super tough but extremely productive, and we are really happy with the results which have captured a fresh and invigorating twist on the Possessor legacy, whilst maintaining the grubby and homespun sludgy vibe of previous albums. It’s definitely more focused on our roots (Bloody Roots).

You all hail from London, where life must have been a little turbulent the past year. Has any of that seeped into the album you think?
Graham – Absolutely, I get really upset and angered by any form of terrorism or small minded and senseless crime. The London Bridge knife attack in June hit really close to home as I had literally jumped on a train home from there just an hour earlier. That evening was a nightmare and worst of all, thanks to social media, it was only minutes before the world was watching actual CCTV footage from the discomfort of their own homes. The amount of lifelong misery that one delusional and impressionable asshole can inflict on another human being is haunting and deeply affecting. I just want folk to shake hands, get along and have a good time.

There were actually a fair amount more aggressive lyrics on this album that dealt with the issues above and venomously tore into that fruit loop who’s currently in charge of America but I changed a lot of it at the last minute to lighten the mood. But just a tiny bit.

Bean – Speaking personally, Possessor is an escape. London can be a turbulent place, as much as any city really. Politically and socially there is a lot to get upset or angry about. There is the threat of terrorism hanging in the air, people are losing their homes and the media continues to try and destabilize communities and pit us against our neighbors. It’s a dark situation. My day job is in social care so every day I see the impact this can have on vulnerable people and it does make me hit the drums a bit harder! In some ways, being in a band, being creative and having the opportunity to share that with other people is a type of therapy. On that level, I think it does influence the album in so far as the passion we put into something that is completely about having a good time. It gives me a chance to step away from the horror of real life (which is far more frightening than the fantasy horror we put into our songs) and do something completely positive.

So, what movies did you guys find inspiration in for this album (although I suppose the Jack the Ripper reference can hardly go unnoticed)?
Graham – Braindead. Because it’s absolutely brilliant, ages incredibly and is just so much fun. I recently re-watched Ms.45 and it kinda stuck in my craw and added a bit of a revenge and vigilante vibe to the riffs. The track ‘Hacksaw’ was intended as an imaginary, cheap and nasty slasher like Nailgun Massacre or The Mutilator. Maybe one day we can make that film. It’s would be trash with some thrash and I think we should have a small role as ‘The Possessors’, a college party band that gets interrupted by a figure in the shadow killing off the teens at our show. Ha! This thing writes itself! Maybe John Carpenter is reading this.

The Elm Street and Evil Dead films ( minus Army of Darkness,) are always a very big reference point for us too, as are the good time flicks like Spinal Tap, Fast Times, Bill and Ted and more recently Deathgasm. The good stuff!

Bean – We’ve always had an affinity with big, silly, over-the-top horror films like Dracula, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Troll Hunter and The Lost Boys. There are references to all of those films in the lyrics and in some of the samples we use. I’ve said it often that Possessor are a band to be enjoyed in the same way as all of the above… With your friends, at volume, in the dark and with a beer.

What song (or songs) would you highlight as exemplary for this new record and why so?
Graham – I think ‘Conjure and Possess’ is my favorite, perhaps because it was only completed a few days before hitting the studio and I think to an extent we winged it. I simply used early Iron Maiden as a major stepping stone and planned it all out in my head every night before I went to sleep for a week. I set out to write a killer opener that explodes from your speakers. I also really have a soft spot for ‘Lava’ as Bean wrote that COC style riff towards the end. And it has such a swing, preceded by a sinister quote from Charles Manson.

Bean – I’m proud of all of the songs on this album. The writing of Conjure and Possess was preceeded by a text from Graham that read, “Can you do the Clive Burr ‘stomp?!!’” Haha! Have a listen and make of that what you will!.. That aside, if I had to pick one tune to showcase The Ripper, I would choose Whitechapel Murders. It’s the centrepiece of the album and I think it captures the vibe of old school heavy metal perfectly. It’s a proper horns up, headbanger of a tune.

So last time we were in contact, ‘Dead By Dawn’ had just come out. You were about to get it out on Graven Earth and Anvileater Records, on tape and cd. What’s the status now label-wise? Was it more comfortable to already have a release deal in place for you guys?
Graham – We are still very much with Graven Earth as Rachel just does not mess about or waste any time. It’s a pleasure to work with her again. The CD has just come out on my little label, Wicked Lester Records, a project I started this year to help spread the word on bands I discovered on Bandcamp that I loved but in some cases didn’t appear to have the audience I personally thought they deserved.

What is up next for Possessor in the near future? Any tours coming up?
– First thing is to get The Ripper out on all formats. There’s a cassette release imminent and we have plans for a vinyl release in the new year.

There are no live plans in the calendar. As Graham mentioned, we are actually in need of a stable live line up, which is something we are working on right now. Once that is in place we plan to hit some venues, louder and heavier than ever.

I have to ask, when are you guys going to tour the continent?
Graham – We need to get on that. It would be a pleasure.
Bean – All offers are considered!

Last time, I asked you guys what sort of food Possessor might be. One of the answers was beer. I thought it’d be fun if you could link each of your albums to a beer and explain why.
Graham – Ha, this is a dream question!
Electric Hell is a like Yakima Red. It’s crisp, dark and dangerous.

Dead by Dawn is cheap lager like San Miguel or Kronenberg because it’s pretty scrappy and you’ll more than likely wake up asleep on the floor the morning after.

The Ripper is London Beer Factory’s Chelsea Blonde. A current fave of mine.

Bean – Hmmmm, I’d say Electric Hell would be a Polish lager. Cheap but very strong. It’ll mess you up but you’ll have a good time getting there.

Dead by Dawn would be a bit more bespoke. A limited run craft ale… Sold in a small can with a swampish illustration on it… but with a ridiculous alcohol percentage.
The Ripper would be Newcastle Brown Ale. Hands down. No messing about.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Graham – Thanks for having us! Go blast The Ripper immediately and be excellent to each other.

Hanal Pixan: The Mayan heritage of Belize

There’s a chance that you’ve never heard of Belize. It’s a small country in Central America, bordering on Mexico and Guatemala. It’s surprisingly very thinly populated. Pictures make it look like a paradise, with beautiful nature, green forests and sandy beaches. The ruins of the ancient civilizations are also an attractive element. As a small country, Belize also has a metal scene and Hanal Pixan is as Belizean as it gets.

In a country that has only been independent since 1981, the search for roots is still going on. The cultural diversity in Belize makes it probably even more tempting to find out more about this now before tourism and migration completely ruin the artifacts of the past. This pre-Hispanic past is what Hanal Pixan explores in their lyrics. It’s what I am most curious about and Halach Uinik Chuc is willing to tell more about this.

Most fascinating to me is that for Halach the Mayan civilization is not something of the past. It’s still there and deeply embedded in the history and culture of Belize. We keep learning.

How is Hanal Pixan doing?
First of all, thank you for the interview, Hanal Pixan is doing good.

How did you guys get started as a band? You are all active in various other bands. Can you tell a bit about that?
The band started in 2013 as a one-man band to play extreme metal with lyrics based on the Yucatec Maya culture. As time went by, I wanted to expand so I invited Nojoch Brujo to join the project in 2015. Later i invited Thiago C. We all meet through internet as they are members of other bands and they liked the idea of Hanal Pixan. Nojoch Brujo plays in Flames of Apocolypse (melodic death metal) and Down in Flames (metalcore). Thiago C plays with Neverchrist (black metal), Crepusculic Shadows (black metal) and we both play together in Kill The Whore (goregrind/brutal death metal). I also have other projects like Sick Mutation.

The name Hanal Pixan is derived from a particular tradition in your part of the world. Can you tell us about that and why you chose it for your band?
Yes, Hanal Pixan, which is pronounced as “Hanal Pishan”, is a tradition which is practiced in Belize by people of Yucatec Maya descent. I am a Yucatec Maya of Belize and Hanal Pixan in our native language means “Food for the souls”. It is a tradition done to honor our loved ones, who have left this world and now are the spiritual one. I chose the name because I thought it would go well with the band’s theme. In other words, Hanal Pixan is a tradition to honor the dead.

In Hanal Pixan you express through your themes and lyrics Mayan history and culture. How do you go about this and can you tell a bit about those themes for people not familiar with them?
The lyrics are mostly based on the history of my people. Stories of war, which were told to us by our grandparents, about the Maya Social War from 1847-1930’s. This is more commonly known as the Caste War. Also about how the culture is today, the traditions, folklore and our daily struggles etc. So it is basically what I see every day and what our grandparents have told us.

Hanal Pixan’s music is mostly based on the last rebellion of the Yucatec Maya from 1847-1930’s to retake their lands which were stolen by the Spanish. This rebellion happened 300 years after the conquest when the Spanish reached the Yucatan peninsula. The Maya were able to put a Maya state in modern times called Chan Santa Cruz and were able to control territories in Northwestern Belize and southern Mexico. It was one of the most successful indigenous uprisings in the Americas. My great grandparents were Maya rebels who fought during that war also. So it is a way of telling my people’s history and struggle.

When you make an album, do you take specific themes and concepts to build them around? For example, your recent album. What story does that revolve around?
Our recent album name is U K’aayo’ob K’uyo’ob which in our native language means ‘The Singing of the Gods’. This album was more based on the modern Yucatec Maya culture of Belize. While our past album In Lu’umil Belice which means ‘Our land Belize’ was more based on the history of the Conquest of this region.

How do you go about making music as a band? Do you start with music or words and what roles does everyone have in creating the music? As I understand, Hanal Pixan was originally a solo project, has the process changed as a band?
Well, the band started as a one-man band but it has changed. In Lu’umil Belice was composed entirely by Nojoch Brujo except the lyrics. Our latest release U K’aayo’ob K’uyo’ob was done differently. The music was composed by Thiago C and myself. For both the albums, I wrote all the lyrics. First, we do the music and then by how the music feels we decide what name to give it.

What is your message on the Mayan themes? Is it simply interest in the past or a resurgence of awareness?
First of all, we want to show our Maya youths that we can still use our culture in the modern world and preserve our Maya identity. Also, it is a reminder of the struggle of our people. Many of our themes are basically ignored in Belizean schools. Belizean schools do not teach our history. It is a resurgence of awareness among the people of Yucatec Maya descent from Belize of their heritage since many do not know our history. To be honest, it is a resurgence of awareness happening right now for our people, who want to preserve their Maya identity in northern Belize.

How does a live show of Hanal Pixan look like?
Sadly, because we have other musical projects, distance and other responsibilities we have not played live. We have been planning to though…

I would like to ask you about the metal scene in Belize. What is the scene like there? And how did metal come to your country, what bands pioneered it and shaped the scene of Belize?
The Belizean metal scene is small and very underground. There are Metal concerts two or 3 times a year. The most known Metal shows are Metal Mayhem in Corozal and Metal Haven Bash in Cayo. Metal was brought by those who traveled to the USA in the late 1980’s. When they came back they brought the music and the dressing style. Also, MTV in the 1990’s helped the scene develop. Those were the days when MTV use to put Metal music videos, not like today. Also, our contact with Mexicans influenced us. I would say that two bands who are pioneers in Belize were Of the Fallen and Lasher Zombie.

Do you as a band face any sort of censorship or restrictions? And is everything like instruments, rehearsal space, music and venues to play in available to you easily?
Most of the scene is underground and seems like we do not exist. We do not have any censorship except in the mainstream media. Bands like Lasher Zombie, being a death Metal band, have been played for a rock special on mainstream Belizean Radio but most of the time the radios ignores the Metal bands. Most Belizean radio stations will not play metal music. Most instruments are purchased from mostly Mexico or the USA.

Space to rehearse is a problem, because of many people, especially religious groups, condemn this kind of music, labeling it Satanic. Venues are also a problem because many do not want Metal bands to play in their venues. Most Venues used are from family members of Metalheads, who are willing to give us our space to make shows. Religious groups have complained to the authorities about our music being too loud and crazy etc. Anyhow, we are still here, doing what we love.

Are there places in Belize that a metalhead should definitely visit?
Of Course, The metal events like Metal Haven Bash that takes place in October and Metal Mayhem in December.

Which bands from your part of the world should people definitely check out (and why so)?
I would recommend the Belizean Metal bands, so people hear how these bands sound in a country so small and with little support. My list is Kill the Whore(goregrind), Flames of Apocalypse (melodic death metal), Verge of Umbra (rap metal), Lasher Zombie (death Metal), Death Supressor (deathgrind), Of the Fallen (melodic death metal), Sick Mutation (grindcore), Hypnopompia (death thrash) and Zro Dclpine (hard rock).

From your social channels it seems that even though you are dealing with history, the band is very much in the present and politically aware too. Can you elaborate on that and is there to you a connection between the two?
We try our best to keep away from Politics in Hanal Pixan and just focus on our Maya history. Sometimes it is difficult to ignore politics because they get involved in everything!

What future plans does Hanal Pixan have?
Play live is one and the other record a third album. We want to continue doing what we love Musically and culturally.

If you had to compare your band to a type of food or a dish, what would it be and why?
I would compare it to Pib. Pib is a traditional Maya foodstyle, where it is cooked underground. Why? Because it is a food done for the Hanal Pixan tradition. Pib is very nice, just like our band sound!.

In kaaba’e‘ Halach Uinik Chuc ,Jach yuum bo’otik ,Kanantabaa( Yucatec maya language)
Translation: My name is Halach Uinik Chuc, Thank you so much , take care (English translation)

Underground Sounds: Year of the Cobra – Burn Your Dead

Label: Magnetic Eye Records
Band: Year of the Cobra
Origin: United States

I like that Year of the Cobra is not a regular band. It’s a duo that also is in a relationship with each other. That sounds pretty weird, since relations are always an intense form of being together. To add a band to that, jeez… the fights they must have in the Barrysmith home in Seattle. I would prefer not to get caught up in that. It does result in ample releases though.

But without making light of it, for these two it works and it produces beautiful, harmonious music. The full length is already a little behind us, so ‘ Burn Your Dead’ is a welcome bit of new material after the success of ‘…In the Shadows Below’. The theme seems to linger in warrior/Viking imagery and occult feeling songs, with that typical crawly vibe to them. Now, maybe I’m mythicizing the place a bit, but it’s so typical that a unique sound like this comes from Seattle, isn’t it?

It felt a little quiet around this band, but Year of The Cobra easily regains their status with this new EP. From the first notes of ‘Cold’, the foreboding sound of their psychedelic doom grabs you. The seductive, slivering sound of the bass/drum combo heavily relies on the husky voice of Amy Barrysmith, who can also wail like a banshee if need be. A chill runs up your spine when she wails the words to the songs.

The music moves with the grace of a cobra. Slow and deliberate towards its goal with an almost slithering smoothness. Sometimes, the intensity increases. This happens on ‘Burn Your Dead’, the title-track, where the vocals are filtered through (I suppose) a megaphone, has a frantic pace and energy to it. What is particularly enjoyable about Year of the Cobra, is how there’s a certain kind of groove in their sound. It feels warm, immersive and pleasant to sink into. Check out, in particular, the bewitching ‘The Howl’, which will totally drag you under. Good stuff, so looking forward to the next full length.